Daily Iowan - July 27, 2007

Swordplay, with leery typists

Emily Grosvenor - The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 7/27/07 Section: Arts

"I hate pirates - they're all talk," said Nate Mims, a member of Rage Theatrics, a local theater group dedicated to the fine art of stage combat. "The only time pirates should sing and dance is after they kill the crap out of everybody."

The group will perform Your Swash is Unbuckled, three short pirate plays by Los Angeles-based playwright Jeff Goode, at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St., Saturday at 8 p.m. in celebration of Iowa City's contributions to the Iowa Fringe Festival, a performance-arts fest in Des Moines. The event, titled collectively "Pen vs. Sword: An Evening on the Fringe," also features Dreamwell Theatre's comedic cast, a pairing that proves that the pen and the sword are never as mutually exclusive as the adage would have it.

The pirates in these three plays can only be trusted to get a laugh. And as the titles of the one-acts hint - "Bridget of Bristol, The Bawdy Brigandess," "Jolly Jack Junior: The Buccaneer's Bairn," and "Lewd Loves of a Lusty Laundress" - Goode likes a good catfight.

Rage Theatrics serves as something of an incubation group for Goode's work in Los Angeles. His plays especially lend themselves to the meticulously staged fight scenes that are the group's trademark, said Nancy Mayfield, education director for the group.

"I think we are more in danger of going too far than in being too subtle," said actor and director Kate Thompson.

Still, the characters don't bash swords willy-nilly.

"We want to do scenes that aren't just fun to look at but that further the story," said Rage Theatrics founder Jason Tipsword.

Playwright Greg Alderich of Dreamwell Theatre also gets a kick out of physical comedy. He fulfills many office workers' daydreams by having a brawl break out among cubicles in his play Typing Lear.

"I love fight choreography," the two-year Iowa City resident said. "I try to put it in all of my plays."

Typing Lear puts to theatrical test the old infinite monkey theorem, which holds that a monkey punching keys at random on a typewriter for an infinite amount of time will eventually type the complete works of William Shakespeare. Alderich said he formed some of his characters from personal experiences working in settings in which someone forgot to pass around the harassment policy. He built his play around one line that came to him last December.

"I don't particularly like your face," the bumbling boss Mr. Winterby says to worker drone Brian - during a meeting in which Brian expects a promotion.

The real reason he sits in this jerk-off's office? Someone is getting fired - and Mr. Winterby needs a way to identify the unlucky stiff.

Winterby settles on a three-way type-off between Brian and his two office-mates, a goofy jock-type and a too-cool-for-school aspiring screenwriter. Their task: type Shakespeare's King Lear.

But whatever lose-lose situation Brian finds himself in, he never casts off his go-getter assumption that the universe will reward his hard work.

"I think that's the philosophy that underlies the whole play," Alderich said. "That there's this order to the universe, and if you want something bad enough, it will conspire to help you."

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